EPISODE: Pilot Episode
TRANSMITTED: 26 August 1991
WRITER: Anthony Coburn (and CE Webber)
DIRECTOR: Waris Hussein
SCRIPT EDITOR: David Whitaker
PRODUCER: Verity Lambert
FORMAT: DVD - The Beginning Boxset
With all the Doctor Who material missing from the archives, it's a miracle that this survives. Recorded Friday 27th September, the tape contains one version of the episode up until the point they enter the Tardis, a complete version of the Tardis scenes, an aborted start to the second attempt to record these scenes and a complete second take of the Tardis scenes. Sydney Newman, the BBC's head of Drama, wasn't happy with what he saw and ordered the pilot to be reshot and that recording, made on the 18th October, became An Unearthly Child as we know it today.
A film recording of the pilot languished in the BBC archives for many years until 1977 when Ian Levene was purchasing stories from the BBC. During the course of his visits to the film library in Windmill Road he discovered that one of their copies of An Unearthly Child had a different length and on viewing it found it was the pilot version.
The pilot has an interesting release history. It first appears on the Hartnell Years VHS where the first half is edited together with the second full take of the second half. On the 26th August 1991 it was shown on the BBC for the first time (if memory serves this was part of Lime Grove Day, celebrating the famous BBC studios where the pilot was filmed). This version uses the first half with the first take of the Tardis scenes. The complete version including both takes was first released as part of the Edge of Destruction VHS in 2000. In 2006 it features twice in the Doctor Who: The Beginning DVD set. There's a complete version of all recorded footage and optional commentary, plus a newly edited version from all of the takes. Unfortunately the newly edited version is accidentally included at the start of the Play All option on the Unearthly Child DVD when it should have just been part of the special features.
As for what I think..... well it's so similar to an Unearthly Child it's hard to pick them apart. Yes there's a few technical problems here and there: the thump & wobble as the camera hits something zooming in on Ian & Barbara touching the Tardis, the Tardis doors struggling to close and banging against the walls. Plus there's a higher than average crop of artists fluffing their lines here: Susan mucks up the change in John Smith & The Commonmen's chart position, Barbara stumbles over her lines in the car. There's usually some problems like these in most 60s Doctor Who which was filmed as live. The surprise here is that Fluffing Billy doesn't join in and delivers all his lines perfectly! But watch take 1 of the pilot carefully and you'll see him groping Carol Anne Ford a few minutes from the end!
The actual differences are small: the Rorschach style inkblot isn't in the final version, the pop music coming out of the Tardis, Susan wears a futuristic outfit in the Tardis scenes, the odd sound effects at the start of the Tardis dematerialising......
If an Unearthly Child, the real version, didn't exist and this did (or vice versa) we'd be wondering what the difference is, while accepting what we had. But I'd happily trade this in for one of the missing episodes (Tenth Planet 4 for example) because of how close it is to the finished product. I suspect this view won't be held by everyone though!
Join us tomorrow as we look at what was actually seen on 23 November 1963.
I'd be remiss if I didn't say that Forty Seven years ago today president Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas at around 6:30pm UK time. At the point the news spread, the cast of Doctor Who were in the studio about to record the second episode of the second story, The Survivors, which introduces The Daleks to the world. The BBC suspended it's planned television schedules to cover the event, resuming the next day with the first episode of a new science fiction series....